Jeff Sacks Responds to Anthony K. Appiah Framing of MLA Boycott Debate

A recent post by Jadaliyya addresses the activity at MLA in connection with the impending Delegate Assembly vote on the resolution to endorse the boycott ofscreen-shot-2017-01-04-at-12-06-19-pm Israeli academic institutions. The Jadiliyya posting includes a useful summary of the MLA process leading up to Saturday’s meeting of the Delegate Assembly and an open letter by Jeff Sacks analyzing K. Anthony Appiah’s recent statements on the political character of the MLA and debate within the association on academic boycott.  Below is an excerpt from the Jadaliyya introduction to Sacks’ detailed and careful refutation of Appiah’s position.

But what is the role of the President of the MLA in framing the terms of the upcoming debate? The President’s letter presents itself as if it were merely reporting conversations he has had with various MLA members, and yet it sets a tone and, through that tone, it frames the debate in advance. The letter suggests that the boycott of Israeli academic institutions is an issue of “contention,” but who is to determine what is contentious and what is not? Why should the MLA only respond to issues that have gained a measure of public approval, rather than respond in ways that are informed by its membership’s understanding of what the MLA Constitutions calls their “common interests”?

In an “Open Letter,” appended below, Jeffrey Sacks suggests that Professor Appiah’s blog post undermines those interests by tethering them to a particular understanding of whose freedom, academic and others, has value and whose does not. Perhaps more than anything, MLA members are uniquely positioned to exercise their freedom as they listen to and learn from colleagues who speak at the coming convention, and as they vote on the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

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